What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?
Also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is an uncommon form of chronic pain that affects a particular region of the body – typically an arm, leg, hand, or foot. The causes of CRPS aren’t well-understood, but the condition usually develops following an injury, surgery, stroke, or a heart attack.
Living with CRPS can be extremely frustrating and distressing. The pain experienced is often much more intense than the pain caused by the initial injury or event. Unlike most injuries which heal with time and rest, CRPS develops and progresses, and the symptoms only get worse over time.
Fortunately, technological advances have made it possible to treat the symptoms of CRPS and reverse some of the damaging effects. A comprehensive course of medication, nerve blocks, and physical therapy can reduce pain and swelling, and even send the condition into remission. But treatment must begin early. The earlier you can recognize the symptoms and get an accurate diagnosis, the better your chances for a successful recovery.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Symptoms
Common signs and symptoms of CRPS include:
- An intense, constant throbbing or burning pain, typically in the arm, hand, leg, or foot.
- Swelling and tenderness in the region of pain.
- Hypersensitivity to cold.
- Fluctuating skin temperature – hot, cold, clammy, or sweaty skin.
- Changes in skin color – white, red, blue, or blotchy areas.
- Changes in skin texture – shiny, thin, or tender areas.
- Joint stiffness, swelling, and limited mobility in the affected area.
- Changes in nail or hair growth.
- Muscle spasms.
- Weakness and atrophy.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Treatment Options Include:
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Stages
The symptoms of CRPS may manifest in different ways from person-to-person. In most cases, we see a pattern in the progression of symptoms. In the early stages, patients experience pain, swelling, and redness, and start to notice their skin changing temperature and overreacting to cold or touch. It’s important to recognize these symptoms right away, and get to a pain specialist for a complete exam.
Later, as CRPS grows more severe, the affected area may turn cold and pale, and undergo visible changes in the hair, skin, and nails. Muscle spasms and involuntary tightening are also common. By time the condition has reached this stage, it is usually considered irreversible.
CRPS may start in one region of the body, and spread outward to affect others, even the opposite-side limb. Emotional distress may exacerbate the pain.
The pain may last for months, or even years. In some cases, the symptoms clear up, and the pain resolves on its own. But generally, waiting it out isn’t worth the risk. We recommend starting treatment early to have the best chances of success.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) Treatment Options
Many patients see some improvement, or even complete remission, of CRPS if they begin treatment in the first few months after noticing symptoms.
Your treatment plan will be individualized to meet your specific case, often incorporating various types of therapies, such as:
- Topical Analgesics. When applied directly to the skin, these can numb the pain.
- Spinal Cord Stimulation. This is an implant which masks pain signals on their way to the brain.
- Sympathetic Nerve Blocks. A numbing agent is injected near the spine, blocking the sympathetic nerves.
If you or your loved one suffers from CRPS, do not delay treatment any longer. Visit the pain specialists at Nuvo Spine for a consultation and a review of your best options.